A mil­lion­aire in our midst

This week’s cover star Chris Bischoff and his brother Nic raised R1.5m on Kick­starter for their new com­puter game, Sta­sis. Im­pres­sive though it may be, the Kick­starter cam­paign wasn’t the broth­ers’ first foray into the mil­lion­aires’ club.

Finweek English Edition - - COVER -

Grow­ing up, the broth­ers knew that they wanted to run a com­pany to­gether, even though they weren’t quite sure about the in­dus­try. As a high-school stu­dent, Chris worked with his in­te­rior de­signer dad do­ing il­lus­tra­tions for the restau­rant in­dus­try. Choos­ing not to pur­sue a de­gree, he spent t wo years hon­ing his craft and build­ing a small client base. When their par­ents de­cided to move to Dur­ban, Chris ap­proached his largest client for a full-time job to sus­tain him. He was per ma­nently em­ployed as an ar­chi­tec­tural il­lus­tra­tor for 18 months when op­por­tu­nity came knock­ing. “At this time my brother was a lec­turer at Damelin, which was do­ing some sort of re­struc­tur­ing. He got re­trenched and got a very nice re­trench­ment pack­age.”

Nic’s re­trench­ment money, about three months’ worth of his salary, and a com­puter that Chris took from his pre­vi­ous com­pany in­stead of a 13th cheque, gave the broth­ers the boost t hat t hey needed to start their own agency, Burn. The com­pany, which ren­ders 3D il­lus­tra­tions of ar­chi­tec­tural projects, took its f irst steps in Nic’s kitchen. At that point the 3D il­lus­tra­tion in­dus­try was non-ex­is­tent lo­cally. Aside from free­lancers do­ing 2D hand il­lus­tra­tions and one other Dur­ban-based com­pany, the broth­ers of­fered a brand new ser­vice that would prove re­mark­ably lu­cra­tive.

“We made as i f we were in the in­dus­try for 10 years,” Chris laughs. “The phone would ring and I would be in the back­ground mov­ing pa­pers around to make it sound like there were more people in the of­fice.”

The fact t hat t hey didn’t have of­fices meant that they would sched­ule meet­ings at their clients’ of­fices. This later be­came a trade­mark. “We said we’ll come to your of­fice be­cause we didn’t ac­tu­ally have an of­fice, but that be­came a core com­po­nent of our busi­ness. We go to our clients’ spa­ces and f it in with their sched­ules. We built our com­pany around be­ing able to go to people’s off ices to sit with t hem. Even t hough we now have of­fices and board­rooms and the rest of it, we don’t re­ally have meet­ings at our stu­dio.”


“I can’t think of the date when we hit our f irst mil­lion, but we went out to din­ner, and Nic said, ‘Oh, by the way, we made our f irst mil­lion.’ It was quite a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially be­cause I thought it would be big­ger as a per­sonal thing. When you ac­tu­ally get there, you think t he ne x t mil­lion will ac­tu­ally be bet­ter, and then you think five mil­lion will be even bet­ter.”

Chris says t he best part about mak­ing your f irst mil­lion is prov­ing to yourself that it is pos­si­ble. “It makes the next one less daunt­ing and you start to see the for­est for the trees. You re­alise that you didn’t die do­ing it. It wasn’t a soul-crush­ing, hor­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. It was a lot of fun to get there.”



“It was about three years into start­ing our com­pany, Burn, that we got to our first large land­mark, which was R1m. By com­par­i­son, the Kick­starter mil­lion took us 22 days to hit. Be­cause we had done it be­fore, we knew that we could do it. It sounds silly but you do get a con­fi­dence boost. Hit­ting the f irst $100 000 on Kick­starter was a re­lief. It was a cool ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause it hap­pened a lot faster than the f irst one. You get that rush of mak­ing your f irst money. As a kid I used to house sit people’s houses and charged them R20 to walk their dog. You get that same sort of rush of, ‘ I did it, and I can ac­tu­ally do it!’ It gave us the conf idence to move for ward with the project.”

Visit Fin­week.com for a video in­ter­view with Chris Bischoff.

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